Guest Post By Phil Van Treuren from Political Campaigning Tips

As a campaign manager and a candidate for political office, I’ve put together fundraisers using several different models with varying success.

The most traditional political fundraiser — a ticket-based event — can raise a substantial amount of funds if you have an established network of supporters who can be counted on to buy (and sell) tickets. And more formal, high-dollar events that involve different levels of official “sponsors” can raise even more money if done the right way.

Both of those methods, however, take a good deal of work and planning to pull off successfully and bring in enough money to justify the commitment of time and resources. If you’re running in a smaller race and don’t have a reliable bench of campaign workers and supporters, you might want to consider a less formal fundraising model that I’ve used many times: the “pay whatever you can afford” event.

This type of political campaign fundraiser is easier to plan, better suited to smaller races, and if done correctly it can generate a much larger crowd. Rather than printing off and selling tickets to the event at a set price, you simply use social media, word of mouth and mail invitations to get people to the fundraiser. And on every piece of communication you send out about the fundraiser, you stress that attendees can “just pay whatever you can afford… even if it’s only a dollar!”

Really?  Only a Dollar?

Before you balk at the “even if it’s only a dollar” part of that sentence, keep in mind that very few — if any — of the supporters who come to your event will actually only give you a single dollar. I’ve found that most attendees give at least twenty bucks, and some give substantially more. In fact, I’ve raised more money at “bring what you can afford” events than I have at some $25 per ticket fundraisers that have the same number of attendees.

The location for this type of a fundraiser could be anywhere, really, but I’ve found that it’s best suited for smaller venues such as a coffee shop. Let the manager know ahead of time that you are simply letting people bring what they can afford — rather than selling tickets — and find out if you can pay a flat fee for the space and refreshments. Something like coffee, cupcakes and other simple refreshments are just fine for this type of event; the model isn’t well suited to an event that provides a full dinner or drinks.

How to Publicize Your Event

In order to publicize the event and get people to attend, I’d recommend a few different methods. First, create a Facebook event and invite every local person on your friends list. Make phone calls and send emails to your closest friends and family members. Lastly — and most importantly — mail out invitations to your core group of supporters.

This is important: when you mail out invitations, don’t just send postcards. Instead, spend the extra money it takes to put the invitation into an envelope, and include a pre-printed slip that reads something like this: “Sorry, I can’t make it! My donation is enclosed.” Add check-mark boxes for $1, $5, $25, $50 and $100. And include a smaller, self-addressed envelope that they can use to mail you their donation.

This could end up netting you hundreds more dollars from supporters who would rather just mail you a donation rather than show up to an event. Including the “sorry I can’t make it” slip and self-addressed return envelope might cost a few extra bucks, but you’ll make it up with the number of checks you get back in the mail. (One vital tip: don’t put stamps on the return envelopes! If a supporter really wants to mail you a donation, then they’ll be glad to use their own stamp.)

The “just pay what you can afford” event isn’t usually the best model for a campaign fundraiser… but it can and does work wonders for small, low-profile political campaigns.  Try holding an event like this during your next run for office… it can help you win your next election if done the right way. Even larger campaigns that have a full schedule of ticket-based and sponsor-based fundraisers should consider trying out this less formal model every now and then. It can be a fun, unique event that doesn’t take much planning, grows your coffers, and keeps people talking about your campaign.

Phil Van Treuren is an experienced campaign consultant and three term at-large councilman in Amherst, Ohio.

Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale